Monday, October 15, 2007

No more loitering

I'm now sitting comfortably at the very smart offices of H&K on Cloverfield Avenue, Santa Monica, about 24 blocks back from the Ocean and right next door to the Yahoo! Centre.

I'm glad they put me in a quiet corner because I suspect I might not be smelling my best, though I'm surely not as malodorous as the interior of that Greyhound bus last night.
I'd had to blag my way onto it because the presentation of photo ID is usually mandatory. (I was eventually waved ahead with a polite "don't do it again!")

I've made some epic bus journeys across Mexico and Central America but this was one of the roughest I can recall. If parts of the US have felt like one big amusement park, I had a strong feeling last night that I had strayed outside of Mickey Mouse's Kingdom. When I decided to ask one woman about the seating arrangements, opening with the least hostile sounding "excuse me.." I could manage, she looked as if I had pulled a gun on her.

The driver (a dead ringer for MC Hammer in Men in Black garb) kept pulling over and opening up the bonnet to check out his engine. Getting stuck in the middle of the Sonoran desert seria el colmo I thought, but we struggled on to the outskirts of LA where we spent a couple of hours gridlocked in drizzle.

When I did finally get a cab from the bus station towards the British Consulate on Wilshire I rejoined the traffic jam and spent another hour or so on the freeway, but the cabbie was a Mexican and we chatted about el Tri's 2-2 draw last night with Nigeria and their forthcoming match up against Guatemala on Wednesday.

I'd left messages with the Consulate since Thursday morning but as luck would have it this was the moment they decided to call me back and better still, Alison − the Scottish consular official that I spoke to − promised to sort me out a one-year temporary passport today.

In the end she never even asked for ID, but I had already been on the phone to my bank in London and they had promised to dig my passport facsimile out of their archives in Fleet Street first thing tomorrow: looks like that won't be needed any more now. The people here at the LA office may still get that copy tomorrow, along with another from Atlanta.

We made a couple of stops on the way from Phoenix. First at a roadside McDonalds at a place called Quartzite, famed for its rock shops. There was a sign saying 'No Loitering' outside but I didn't really need to be told. Then we made an extra stop at San Bernadino where some people planned to change for a bus to San Diego, but the terminal was darkened and locked up and as nobody had the courage to get down, we drove on.

At one point the driver asked for a show of hands from the passengers to determine whether we were feeling over-chilled. We were. He then chastised us for not having made this clear when he delivered his detailed list of instructions with appended dos and don'ts as we pulled out of the station in Phoenix. "Like I said, I got ma own air up here."

Unlike the Galgos down south, the driver on these beaten-up American buses sits behind a sealed barrier that prevents passengers from coming up and making idle conversation. (In Guatemala it has struck me that this often helps keep the driver awake and out of the barrancos.)

I didn't get much sleep at all on what turned out to be an eight and a half hour ride, so I caught up with two weeks' worth of Mark Kermode's podcasts. Apparently the sub-title of Black Sheep is 'The Violence of the Lambs'. Haha.

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